January 31, 2012

Racing to Kindergarten

Race to the Top was a federal grant competition among states* for $4.35 billion worth of school funding. Twelve states were awarded between $75,000,000 and  $700,000,000.   Was the competition ultimately good for American students?  You can Google it (or read more here) and decide for yourself.  In my opinion, though, a rising tide does not raise all boats when only certain boats are fully funded. 

Why am I writing about a race for school funding that ended in 2010?  Because with kindergarten registration fast approaching, our family is entering its own educational competition. 

While I teach in one public school district, we live within the boundaries of another.  The two are similar if not in size, at least in their diverse student bodies and wide range of socioeconomic factors affecting their families.  The neighborhood school is located six blocks from our home.  Henry would be allowed to take the school bus but I prefer that he not.

I will happily take care of the logistics of getting him to and from school each day.  And that won't be an easy feat since the kindergarten school day ends at 10:30 am. Yes, 10:30 am.  The children receive just 2.5 hours of daily classroom instruction.  (By comparison, this year Henry is attending a three hour private prekindergarten program.)

As a mom and as an educator, I am convinced that 1/2 day kindergarten is not right for my son.  Thank goodness this is America and I have options.  The school district does offer an all day kindergarten option.  Unfortunately, for the 1,200 five year olds residing within the district's boundaries there are just 56 seats available in this "academy" program.  Parents must compete to be the first to register their children for the six hour school day.  Parents must also have the extra $250 per month to help fund the program.

So let me recap:  If you, the parent of a five year old, have a fast car and a chunk of disposable income, your child can receive up to 60 more hours of classroom instruction each month.  He or she will enter first grade with  525 more hours of school experience than 1,144 of his or her peers.

Will our family be a winner?  Your guess is as good as mine.   Kindergarten registration opens to the public at 9 am on a Thursday.  Rumor has it that the full day class will be filled within an hour and a half.  Yet another source warns not to wait until 9 am but rather enter the front office at 8 and ask for a number to secure our place in line. 

I realize that many parents desire full day public kindergarten programs in order to lessen their childcare costs.  For our family, though, that is beside the point.  When I signed up to be a single mom, I knew that childcare expenses were a part of the deal.  I willingly pay for the quality care my children need, for however long they need it.  And even with full day classes, Henry will still need several hours of after school supervision before I get home. 

I'm not looking for bargains; I'm looking for a quality educational experience.   Is 12.5 hours of weekly instruction enough?  I don't think so.  Admittedly, a full day of kindergarten may be too stimulating for some youngsters.  And there are many moms who can spend the other half of the day educating their kindergartners at home.  I'm not against giving parents and their children options.  But we, as a community, need equitable access to those options.

Finally, I'm a realist with a basic understanding of how American schools are funded.  I know that the  U.S. is not Finland.   I still have to ask, can't we do better than 2 1/2 hour days? 

What do the schools in your area offer?

*several states refused to compete.


  1. Very interesting as we start looking at our options here too. I'm okay with a 2 1/2 hour kindergarten for my children, but your post makes me realize how really inequitable the system is. Shouldn't every child be entitled to the same options in a public school system?

  2. Here in NYC we do not have an option for a 2.5 hour day or even half day public school or even private Kindergarten. Eliza goes to school from 8:15 to 2:15 each day. While NYC public schools are often criticized in the news, there are many, many great ones, and I am lucky enough that Eliza is in one of those. And there was a lot of luck, since we are not zoned for her school.

    Thankfully, she is not chained to a desk all day, in fact there are no desks at all :) Her school has science, art, music and PE each twice a week, they have a half hour of free playtime in the school yard or gym every day at lunch time. The last period of the day is "choice time" and the children can spend that time in a variety of ways, from playing in an architectural block room or hanging out with the principal discussing their day. Eliza is in a class of 18 kids with 2 teachers (since it is an integrated class). Her teachers are amazing. In 6 months, we have had a publishing party where the children have presented short narrative books they have written and illustrated about something they have done. Admittedly it is a five page book, with sketchy handwriting and no care for spelling, but it was wonderful to see 18 five year olds stand up one at a time in the class and "read" (explain) their books to the parents and staff with their peers cheering them on. Eliza has learned how to make plywood in science and her science class has a set of trees in the local park that they study all year to learn the seasons. Her art teacher has them work with different media and now my almost 6 year comes home and instead of wanting crayons, asks for her oil pastels so she can mix ocean colors.

    I realize that this experience is not the norm for many families and schools. But I also don't think that in the right setting with the supportive teachers and principals that a full day of Kindergarten is a bad thing. For us it has been great.

    My experience may be tainted a bit since Eliza attended a full time 5 day a week special ed preschool program. The gains she made there were amazing. She had 3 or 4 two word sentences when she started there at age 3.5 and left at 5.5 years with language skills that allowed her to give lengthy "dissertations" to tourists in the Museum of Natural History about the difference between a crylophasaurus and an elasmasaurus.

    What I don't think is fair in your situation is the limitations on the choice to go with full time or part Kindergarten. The fact that the full time Kindergarten is called the "academy program" implies to me that what they are offering is not just more quantity, but more quality in the education. And that is just not right.

  3. Parents actually sleep out overnight at some locations to get a prime position in line for Kindergarten registration.
    Personally, the prospects of K registration is stressing me out. Apparently here Kindergarten bus riding is mandatory as well (don't know how that works for the kids that need before and after school care though) We only have half day kindergarten but for an additonal 500 a month I can apply for a 25 max slot in the afternoon enrichment program. Our town has two days for registration.. Our last name makes us the second day. So its entirely possible that the coveated morning class will be filled up. Whatever happened to full day kindergarten? I went to full day kindergarten 35 years ago. Seems to me that kids that have been in a preschool or daycare setting prior are taking a step back. One one hand I am torn about trying to get him into the enrichment program or should I just give him a break after 5 years in daycare full time and find someone to watch him at home so he can go to kindergarten then come home and just have playtime. Cory is such an energetic kid that I wonder if the extra down time would do him some good.

  4. WOW, that is definitely a challenge! I'm thankful that our area has offered full day kindergarten for about four or five years, now....They are so ready for it!

  5. 2 1/2 hours? Really? That just doesn't seem right to me. Good luck, I hope you get Henry a spot in the full day!

  6. 2.5 hours? Like Tiara said, that just doesn't seem right! Good luck!

  7. Financially it has been super tough...but going the private route has absolutely been the best route for my son. His neighborhood school was rated terribly and where he is has full day kindergarten plus super stimulating after school programs that he has fallen in love with (art class is a must!)

    Such a hard decision. I don't envy you. I remember being there. You will find the right choice. I just know it.

  8. Until 10:30?!? wow! And only a few lucky get to have a full day? Sorry but I am glad I am not American.. We have our own issues - from this year kindergarten (and by k I mean 3-5 yr olds, before school) is until 14:00 instead of 13:30 as it was up till now (most kids continue to an afternoon child care facility until about 16:00, 16:30). So I know at the beginning of the year lunch was kind of a problem (they have only something light at kindergarten). But ALL kids from the age of three* are in kindergarten (or rather can be, I'm planning on homeschooling..) from 8:00-14:00 for free (afternoon programme does cost)
    *actually three is new from next year and it is a big question how they will cope as people won't want to send to private kindergartens if there is a free option. I think it was from four that was free till now.
    Anyway (you asked..) I hope it went well and you got the full day! If not, I hope you have good other options.